In Central Oregon, the fate of a $29 million bond measure is now in the hands of Bend voters. The Bend Parks and Recreation District sent it to voters to fund a list of projects and land acquisitions. As David Nogueras reports, most of these projects relate to one of city’s most iconic symbols: the Deschutes River.
The City of Bend was literally built around the Deschutes. Long before that, the river was central to the Native peoples that fished these waters. Later it would become a vital means of transport for a booming timber industry. And in recent years, it’s brought a new wave of people seeking outdoor recreation opportunities as well as improved quality of life.
That’s what Diane Heller was looking for when she retired here three years ago . She’s out walking a paved trail along the banks of the Deschutes.
“A lot of it’s sunshine. But I would say it is the parks. I mean the parks here are fantastic,” Heller said.
Right now, this trail ends a few hundred yards upstream from here. But should voters approve the measure the district would finally be able to realize what has long been a goal: a trail that’s fully connected. At this spot, the plan calls for a new pedestrian bridge. Heller really likes that idea, but she hasn’t yet decided how she’ll vote.
Rich Peterson on the other hand says he does know. I catch him outside his house as he’s re-seeding his front lawn. Peterson grew up in Bend and says the improvements would help make the city more desirable to businesses and individuals. He says that’s why he’s voting “yes.”
Peterson explained “If we’re going to be a tourist town, let’s get into it full force.”
Harold Shrader on the other hand doesn’t buy the idea that people would come to Bend solely because of its parks. Shrader retired here from Reno a few years back. He says even though he supports some parts of the plan, like the expansion of the river trail, he’s not going to be voting for it.
Shrader said, “I worked in city and county governments for over three decades, and I know how things work from the inside going to the public. And this is pure pork, most of it.”
Shrader singles out one project in particular, where the district plans to spend more than $5 million to develop a park at a site considered to be the frontrunner for a new Oregon State University Cascades Campus.
Shrader believes the district included projects like this one, that might never pass individually, in order to win broad support for the measure.
District Director Don Horton says the parks and recreation officials came up with this list after more than 8 years surveying the community. He says if the measure fails, some of these projects could still get done with a little re-prioritizing.
Horton said, “But there are some of key ones, like the land acquisitions, that we won’t be able to afford. And the land will be for sale. And somebody else will buy it. And some of those key acquisitions are along the Deschutes River.”
The bond would add 24 cents for every thousand dollars of assessed property value. That works out to about $50 a year for a $200 thousand home.